It sounds hyperbolic, but it isn't: Gooey jellyfish-like creatures have been washing ashore on Washington and Oregon beaches for more than a month by the millions—at least. The Weather Channel reports billions are being blown ashore. They're called velella velella, and "unless you're a microscopic plankton, you have nothing to worry about," the lead docent at the Coastal Interpretive Center tells KOMO. Though they carry a mild neurotoxin, they won't sting. But as the blue creatures die they can start to smell, reports the Oregonian, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says they've in the past piled up as much as half-a-foot deep.
A dorsal "sail fin" they have typically allows the velella velella to curve a path away from the shore and back toward the sea—hence its other common names: "purple sailors," "little sail,” and "by the wind sailors." But a strong wind can prove too much for them to combat, and as a Weather.com meteorologist explains, "Since March, the component of surface wind blowing from west to east over the northeast Pacific toward coastal Washington and northwest Oregon has been stronger than average." KSBW spoke with a scientist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute who put the current death toll in the billions and notes the velella velella can be found in the water as far as 120 miles from shore. KSBW reports the die-offs typically happen every four to seven years, though one occurred last year.